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City pursues improvements for elderly residents

Sandra Larson | 3/5/2015, 6 a.m.
Mayor Martin Walsh and the city’s Elderly Commission have launched an Age-Friendly Boston initiative with the aim of making Boston ...
Boston Commissioner of Elder Affairs Emily Shea (at podium) listens as a resident speaks at the Civic Academy on Age-Friendly Boston Feb. 28 Banner Photo

On the Web

For more information on Age-Friendly Boston and the city’s Elderly Commission, see these websites:

agefriendlyboston.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/bostonelderlycom mission

Andrea Burns, Age-Friendly Boston director, 617-635-4877

For senior citizens, city living can be the ticket to holding onto independence: access to the corner store or lunch spot by foot, public transportation options to get to the health center or City Hall, neighbors or family members nearby who can drop in to check on well-being, offer assistance or chat over a cup of coffee.

On the other hand, viewed through an elder’s eyes, the city’s walk lights can be frighteningly brief, T station stairs steep and places for gathering with other seniors few and far between.

Mayor Martin Walsh and the city’s Elderly Commission have launched an Age-Friendly Boston initiative with the aim of making Boston a place that supports senior citizens in continuing to lead productive, safe and healthy lives.

Walsh spoke Saturday to an audience of some 100 seniors and senior advocates gathered at Faneuil Hall for a Civic Academy on the topic, a city-led forum that encouraged attendees to voice their concerns and desires about aging in Boston.

“Boston is the youngest per capita city in America, but also, our senior population is growing faster than anyone else,” Walsh said, “so how do we make sure the city is open and accessible for people who live here, who have invested in the city, who have made the city what it is today?”

The city’s new housing plan calls for an additional 5,000 units of senior housing, Walsh noted, in addition to creating and freeing up more housing for middle-income people of all ages. He mentioned recent city actions, including a series of neighborhood engagement walks and efforts to make the city more walkable, improve transportation and make parks and open spaces safe and accessible to people of all ages.

The mayor stressed that sessions like the Feb. 28 forum are not just for receiving answers to questions, but also for making suggestions.

“I’d like to see a big senior center,” said Ernestine Washington, 67, of Roxbury. “We’ve got plenty of centers for all ages — the YMCA, the Kroc Center — I’d love to see a senior center for us, with a pool I can walk into.”

A man from South Boston lamented the loss of family neighborhoods and the increasing turnover of younger neighbors without children.

“There’s no sense of community, and no one to shovel sidewalks,” he said. “We need more affordable, family-friendly housing.”

Some comments revealed the vulnerable side of aging without proper support. A 69-year-old Roxbury homeowner said she needs a way to communicate with the police confidentially when “something’s going on the neighborhood” and she’s afraid to speak out for fear of being targeted. Several noted a need for better monitoring of unscrupulous home repair contractors.

A few highlighted the positive — for instance, the city’s property tax work-off program that offers seniors property tax relief in exchange for volunteer work.

“I hope this program can be expanded and publicized,” said one attendee who described his satisfying volunteer stints doing grant research for local nonprofit groups.